An SUV in President Pranab Mukherjee’s motorcade skidded off a hilly road and went down a 100-feet gorge near in Darjeeling on Friday, injuring six people, including an Intelligence Bureau (IB) officer.
The President, who was on his way to Bagdogra airport to catch a flight to Delhi after a four-day trip to the region, “is safe” and the convoy was halted at a secured location, his Press Secretary Venu Rajamony said.
The incident happened in the morning as the President left Raj Bhavan in Darjeeling at 10.30 am. A little after 11 am, the SUV that was following the car in which Mukherjee and Bengal Governor Kesari Nath Tripathi were travelling, skidded off the road and fell into a gorge at Sonada — about 17 km from Darjeeling.
Because of low visibility due to rains and fog, the SUV, Mahindra Scorpio — which was the third car in the convoy carrying security liaison officer of the IB and local police officers — got stuck in the thick vegetation around 30 feet from the road. Security norms do not allow doors of security vehicles to be locked, which proved a boon for the personnel as they were thrown out the vehicle as it rolled down the gorge.
“The accident happened while the vehicle was negotiating a bend. All the six security personnel were rescued after a 45-minute rescue operation,” ADG (Law and Order) Anuj Sharma said.
After initial treatment at Kurseong Hospital, the injured were referred to different hospitals. They were identified as driver Gautam Sen, chief security officer A P Singh, Jorabangla police Sub-Inspector Sudip Biswas, Special Superintendent (CID) Deep Sarkar Rudra and Sub-Inspector Piyush Bhattacharya. The injured IB officer was being brought to Delhi.
While the President’s vehicle continued with its journey, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee — who was following the car that fell into the gorge — supervised the rescue operation. Her security personnel, members of the Special Security Wing, were the first ones to climb down the gorge and start rescue operation before RAF and Army personnel arrived at the accident site.
The President’s son and MP Abhijeet Mukherjee and his sister Sharmistha Mukherjee were following Mamata’s car. Abhijit, a trained mountaineer, wanted to chip into rescue efforts and tried to descend into the gorge but was stopped by Mamata, said sources.
The President later stopped at Kurseong Tourist Lodge and called up Mamata to take stock of the rescue operations, sources added. Mamata went on to announce a reward for the rescue team.
The Rashtrapati Bhavan tweeted, “Car in President’s carcade from Darjeeling to Bagdogra goes off road, minor injuries to security personnel; #PresidentMukherjee safe.”
“#PresidentMukherjee proceeds to Bagdogra to emplane for Delhi after ensuring injured security personnel safe and have received medical attn (sic),” another tweet said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called up Mukherjee to enquire about his well-being after learning about the accident.
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